Column: I won’t accept student loan forgiveness if offered | Columnists

In the film “Cinderella Man,” we learn the true story of the boxer James Braddock. Braddock was injured right before the Great Depression, losing his ability to provide for his family through boxing. He did everything he could to try to provide for his wife and kids, from selling all of their things to trying to hide his injury so people would hire him for odd jobs on the docks.

In a particularly touching scene, he gives his meager meal of a single slice of ham to his daughter, claiming to be full from eating a large steak in his dream.

Only in this state of poverty did he finally go and seek help from the government. He was ashamed of needing the help, but he truly did need it, and he was humble enough to go get it.

Later, he is able to get a second chance at boxing and makes more money than he has in years at the docks. He then takes a big wad of cash to the lady who gives out government money for the exact amount she had given him through the years.

James Braddock felt a sense of debt to those who had helped him get through a difficult time, and that drove him to pay back that debt. He was a man of extreme integrity in a time when integrity had a high value.

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Let’s contrast that with the culture today.

When I was in college 10 to 15 years ago, I was a recently married student who was scraping by as well as I could but also taking out loans to pay for my college tuition.

My wife and I attended a party with some friends, and one of them flippantly joked, “Should we use your food stamps or mine to pay for the food?” What was a shameful sign that you couldn’t provide for your own family during the Great Depression had become an entitled joke in a couple of generations.

The joke shocked me, as I was not on food stamps, nor had I considered trying to get on them. I would take out loans to supplement my funds and pay them back as I got the opportunity.

I am still paying off some of those loans to this day.

Today, many seek openly to have their debts canceled, debts they voluntarily entered into to obtain their educations. Not only did they choose to pursue that education, but they chose the topics they would be educated on. Apparently they thought the expense worth the money before they took on the debt.

By comparing that with James Braddock, who was not required to pay back his debts, you see how far our sense of duty and responsibility has fallen.

I believe it is time for a return to integrity, to being true to our word. The sad thing is, the more of us who act entitled and take what we are not owed when we do not need it, the more people will assume that those who genuinely do need it don’t.

There are many who truly need help all around us. The only efficient way for us to identify those in need is to incentivize responsibility, both in our local community and in national policy.

One thing that would help make that happen is for people who still have student debts to contact their congressmen and senators and tell them we do not want their debt forgiveness. We want to be treated like trustworthy, dignified men and women.

Jacob Bair holds a doctorate degree in materials science and engineering and is an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University.

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